Monday, July 28, 2014

A Failure in Irony

I've been getting these phone calls, lately, from "Geek Support Live." On the one hand, I want to applaud these people for their innovation, but the other hand wants to slap them. See, these are scam phone calls from India. I think it's an actual company. They call and tell you your computer has a security issue and if you will just follow their instructions, they will fix it for you. Of course, "Geek Support" is close enough to "Geek Squad" to make people consider what they're saying, but they also imply that they're from Microsoft.

I treat the calls like I often do with telemarketing calls, meaning I engage with them. Well, not always, but often enough. I find it amusing. Yes, I know I'm obnoxious, but getting telemarketing calls at 8:00 and 9:00pm is also obnoxious. So... anyway...

The first couple of times I got these calls from Geek Support Live, I asked all kinds of questions the guy couldn't answer but would always respond with, "It doesn't matter." Questions like
"What version of Windows am I running?"
"What kind of security issue am I having?"
"Who is it you're trying to call?"
Now, this third question was interesting, because, the first time I asked it, the guy responded with that "it doesn't matter" response. Basically, "you could be anyone with a computer." heh
Now, the second time I got one of those calls, the answer was disturbing, because they actually gave me a name; it was one of the wrong number names we frequently get to our phone number, but it showed more of a targeted call rather than random phone numbers.

Some other time, I told the caller that I didn't have a PC but a Mac; he immediately switched scripts and started telling me he could help me anyway.

I hadn't actually had anymore calls from them in a while until just the past couple of weeks. Frequently, I joke to my wife about the stupid calls like that that we get so, when I got the first new call, I mentioned it to her. She said, "It would be funny if the next time they call you tell them that you are from Geek Support Live and their computer is having an issue." I agreed. That would be terribly funny.

And it was terribly funny.

When I got the call today, as soon as the guy told me he was from Geek Support Live and that my computer was having a security issue, I said, "No, I'm from Geek Support Live, and your computer is having a security issue." At first, he didn't understand and tried to correct me, "No, I'm from Geek Support Live...," to which I replied, "No, I'm from Geek Support. My computer is telling me that your computer has a virus."
"No, my computer is okay."
"That's not what my computer is telling me."
"You're computer says my computer has a virus?"
"Yes, that what it says."
Of course, the actual conversation was quite a bit longer than that, but, somewhere in there, the Indian guy from Geek Support started laughing. He kept trying to cover it up, but I could hear him. I managed to keep a straight face, so to speak, throughout the call.

A little while later, they called back. It sounded like the same guy, but it may have just been the accent. We had a very similar start to the conversation until the guy said to me, "You must have a super computer."
I just went with it, "I do. I do have a super computer."
"You must, because you'd have to have a super computer to be able to tell you that my computer has a virus."
And that's where I almost laughed, because he failed to get the irony in what he was saying. I was supposed to believe that he, with his normal computer, could tell that my computer was infected, but I would need a super computer to tell the same thing of his. It was quite amusing.
Then he asked me if I was with Obama, because I would have to be with Obama (like be standing right there next to the President) to have access to a computer like that. But I still managed to keep a straight face.

The whole thing was very satisfying. And, no, I have no analogy or anything for this. It's just a page out of my life. You should have seen the looks my kids gave me every time I was having one of those conversations.

Oh, later, another guy from Geek Support called; it was definitely a different guy. He got offended when I told him that I was from Geek Support, too, then tried to tell me that the other two calls I had earlier in the day had not, in fact, been from Geek Support. Those guys were impostors. He even very helpfully offered to connect me to the Better Business Bureau so that I could confirm with them that he and only he was really from Geek Support Live.

I'm kind of looking forward to the next time they call.
Is that bad?

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Shadow Lamp (a book review post)

Here we are at book four of the Bright Empires series by Stephen Lawhead. You can see my reviews for the other books at the following links:
The Skin Map
The Bone House
The Spirit Well

[Seeing that this is book four, I'm not even going to try to do this without spoilers. I'm not sure there's a good way to even try. I will, though, be as general as possible, so any spoilers may not make sense anyway. Except for one, which will be a huge spoiler, so, if you even think you might want to read this series, when I get to the part where I'm talking about the new conflict, well, you'll probably not want to read that part.]

The elapsed time span in this novel seems to be much shorter than the previous books, at least as it passes with the central characters. There is still all kinds of back story as it relates to the Flinders-Petrie family and Burleigh, which is all interesting, but I'm not certain exactly how much of it pertains to the "present day" story. Well, I think that the stuff to do with the map is at least quasi-important, because the map (the skin map) is very important, so how it ended up in pieces is probably going to end up being important. But, still, the advancement of the main plot, the story around Kit, doesn't make much progress.

However, that doesn't mean there are no significant events.
We're introduced to another new character, and I'm not sure how vital he will end up being to the overall story, but he was at least vital in one area in this book. Still, it's kind of weird to me that Lawhead has continued to introduce major characters this far into the series. I'm not saying that it's a bad thing; it's just not usual. Generally speaking, series like this give us the whole cast of characters right up front and, if not, certainly by the end of the second book, but Lawhead gave us two major characters in book three and at least one in book four (and possibly a second, I'm not sure, yet), so that aspect is interesting to me.

The other thing of interest to me is the conflict (and, yes, this is where the major spoiler comes in). During the first three books, the conflict is really just over the skin map itself. Kit and his group (the Zetetic Society, even though Kit didn't know that) on one side and Burleigh on the other. The skin map is a twofold prize: 1. The obvious one, it provides a map to travelling the leys, and there is a lot of profit in ley travelling if that's your motivation. 2. There is a secret hidden the map. There is speculation that the secret is the Spirit Well, but no one is quite sure if that's it or not. Of course, the Spirit Well, all by itself, is a prize beyond compare.

So for three books we're going with that as the conflict, but The Shadow Lamp introduces a new character, Tony Clarke, and, through him, we discover that there is something much worse going on, something that could lead to the actual destruction of not just the universe but the entire multiverse. Of course, getting the skin map may be the only way to stop the threat. All of it leaves one wondering how in the world he will wrap all of this up in the fifth (and final) book, which is something I started wondering in book three, actually.

Now, here's my problem:
Bright Empires is not really a time travel story even though it has time travel, of a sorts, in it. However, this book develops a time travel issue, and I'm not sure, yet, how I feel about it. [This continues the spoiler warning, because I'm going to get kind of detailed with this conflict.] There's a lot of theoretical talk in the book about multiple dimensions and how time works and all of that kind of stuff, and I'm okay with that. On the whole, it all deals with current ideas, so it's not wild speculation by the author [Which I would probably be okay with, too, but I do want to point out Lawhead has not just made up all of the theory stuff in this series. There's science that goes with it.]. However, there is one theoretical position that I have not read about [So it could be made up? I haven't tried looking it up, yet, to see if it's something that's being said out there in SCIENCE.], and the logic with which Lawhead uses it kind of baffles me.

The idea is that time flows... well, it flows backwards. Instead of flowing from the past to the future, as we experience it, the idea in the book is that time flows from the future to the past. Okay, interesting thought, but what does it have to do with anything? Well, because of this reverse time flow, if something happens to mess up the future, that error gets carried back into the past and wipes everything out. In the book, this will result in the collapse of the multiverse and it will be as if it never existed. Time itself will cease to exist.

And here's my problem with that:
If such a thing happened and time actually ceased to exist, then nothing would ever have happened to begin with. There would be no story, because it never would have existed. Which may not make sense, and would also negate the, well, telling of the story, but, what I guess I'm saying, is why make it so that nothing, not even time, would exist, because then there was nothing to begin with. And I may be getting to metaphysical for this discussion, so I'll just say that that one logic hole bothers me. Probably not enough to run the series for me but enough to put me back to reserving judgment till the next book.

That said, I like Lawhead. He's one of the few authors whose books I will just pick up and read whenever he has a new book out. He gets to go to the front of the line, so to speak, which is not so figurative as it may sound. Also, I've really enjoyed this series, especially after what I felt was a lackluster start to it (see the review of the first book). Even though I'm having ambivalence about his whole "utter annihilation of the entire multiverse" thing, I'm sure I'll enjoy the last book. At least, I hope so. I suppose I'll let you know whenever the paperback is released.

** ** **

In related news that is not related:
I was looking at the pre-sale information for the fifth book, The Fatal Tree, and it's ridiculous. The hardcover is $20, which pretty normal, but the Kindle edition is $18! What the heck? And the paperback? The paperback is only $12. Now, anyone, tell me why I would pay $6 MORE for the e-version of the book. And this is why I have no sympathy for Hachette and other publishers who want to gouge consumers by charging more for something which has virtually no cost for them. It's just wrong.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

An Exploration in Fantasy -- Part One: The List (an IWM post)

Prior to Tolkien, fantasy writing was sparse. At least, what we think of now as fantasy was sparse. Because of that, Tolkien is widely considered the "Father of Modern Fantasy" or, specifically, the "Father of High Fantasy." Along with the title has come the assumption that it was Tolkien who established our model of how fantasy ought to be written, that it was Tolkien who originated the tropes. People, often people who have not read The Lord of the Rings, look at what Tolkien did and ascribe the origins of all that fantasy has become to him.

Now, I love The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit, as you'll know if you've checked out my "Of Significance..." page on my own StrangePegs blog, is one of the three books that I think everyone should read. And I don't undervalue Tolkien's importance. There would be no fantasy genre as we know it today without him. However, I don't think that we can "blame" Tolkien for today's fantasy tropes. In fact, many of the things we think he did, he did not, in fact, do. No, for the origins of fantasy, we have to look elsewhere.

* * *

And that elsewhere is Indie Writers Monthly. Sort of. I mean it will be where to look. Today, we're just talking about the elements of fantasy. And there's a list! Everyone loves lists, right? So hop right over and check it out!

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Pocket Problem

Here's something I bet you didn't know:
Where the pockets are placed on the back of the jeans you're wearing affect how your butt looks. Now I bet you're trying to look behind yourself at your butt, aren't you? It's okay, go ahead. Mostly, I suppose, this is not a thing that matters to guys, though it's probably no less applicable to them; they just don't really care. But women... Well, women care about their butts.

Wait. That sounds wrong. Let's try again:

Women care how their butts look. You know it guys. What guy doesn't dread the question, "Do these jeans make my butt look fat?"

Let me give you some background:
A while back, my wife needed to buy some new jeans. For most people, that means going to the store... Okay, wait a minute. For most guys, that means going to the store going to the jeans section, grabbing the right size, and paying for them. There may not even be any trying on of the jeans. For women, though... well, I'm not even going to explain the ordeal of buying clothing. If you're a woman, you know what it is; if you're a man, there is every chance you don't have a clue. You have an idea of women liking to shop and think that answers the question of why they spend so much time trying to figure out what clothes to buy and, while it may be true that any given woman may like to shop, that has nothing to do with why it's so much work for them to buy clothes. Just... you know, get her to explain it to you. Seriously.

Anyway...

My wife needed to buy some jeans, and my wife is not one of those women who likes to shop; in fact, she pretty much hates it. So what my wife does, to cut down on the actual shopping time, is research. Which is where I come into this. My wife wanted me to help her with the jeans selection, which started online. But, first, she had to explain to me this whole pocket theory thing, which involved her showing me lots of pictures of women's butts. Before I go on: There are whole websites devoted to this issue of pocket placement. So she showed me scores of pictures of opposing views of women's butts: bad pocket placement vs. good pocket placement. You know, so I would understand. And, then, the question: Tell me which butts you think look good. Yeah, okay, it's not a question, but I'm sure you understand.

And I bet you guys out there are shouting at your monitors in your best Ackbar imitations: "It's a trap!"
Don't get me wrong; that thought crossed my mind. But just wait; it gets better.

So we went through all of these pictures until I had it down what to look for in regards to how back pockets should be on the pants, and then we went out in public... It was a festival-type thing. You know, lots of people. We let the kids go off and do their thing, and my wife and I sat down, and she said to me, "Help me look at women's butts, and make sure you point out the ones that look good." I know! I know! IT'S A TRAP!

But it wasn't a trap. We sat there or walked around for a few hours pointing out butts to each other and determined that, on the whole, women do not do a good job of purchasing jeans. Older women, especially, were prone to jeans that sagged off the butt and left the butt looking rather formless. Younger women liked pockets with lots of bling; I suppose to draw attention to the butt, but that usually was a bad thing. Those women tended to have pockets that were either placed too far apart or were too long (going past the butt down onto the leg), both of which flattened the butt out, leaving it looking like a board.

'Cause, see (and now we get to the point), the problem is that there is no general pocket solution. No one pocket fixes all, which is, of course, what we want. We want THE pocket that we can just slap on any butt and SHAZAM! THAT BUTT LOOKS AMAZING! But all butts are different, and each butt needs pockets that fit the design, so to speak, of that butt. Which can make it difficult to find just the right pocket. And, guys, that's just a small insight into why it takes women so long when they're clothes shopping.

But, of course, this doesn't just apply to butts. It applies to writing and, well, to EVERYTHING! There are very few, almost no, easy solutions in life. No magical fixes. No simple set of rules you can follow to success or whatever it is you're after. It all takes work, research, some trial and error, mistakes, wrong roads, right roads, errors in judgment, missing the target, getting the bulls-eye, tripping, falling, getting back up, trying again, all to get to the the thing that fits you. That set of pockets that makes your butt look good. That turns heads and makes people whistle. Whatever.

Just to let you know, my wife found some awesome jeans. As she said, there's no reason that, just because she's a mom, she should have to wear "mom jeans." I agree. Figure out what fits you and makes you look good. Do the research. The work. Put in the effort. There's no need to settle for a saggy, shapeless butt when you can have, instead, "Now that's an ass!"

Friday, July 18, 2014

Les Miserables (a local color post)

As I mentioned in passing, recently, my oldest son has been a part of a local production of Les Miserables. He's actually getting paid for this gig, which is pretty cool, especially since he didn't even audition for the part. He was requested by the director (whom he worked with several years ago in a production of The Pirates of Penzance). Not that he had a big part in that he was one of the main characters or anything; he wasn't, but he did have several solo bits and was a named character, Combeferre, along with the ensemble stuff he did. Basically, he was on stage through the greater part of the performance. He's even the first one onto the stage, as he gets pushed out as part of the prisoner gang.

As you can guess, I'm going to say my son was great. And he was. But, look, it's chorus work, mostly, and the chorus folk did a fine job, on the whole (with the exception of one kid who didn't know what to do with himself when he wasn't actively doing anything). His singing was right on, so it's hard not to be great when you don't have so much room to screw up. Okay, look, if my kid has one issue, it's that he might smile too much, but that's also one of the things that makes him good. He's got charisma, and he draws eyes to him just by being on the stage. [Recently, he was in Pride & Prejudice in the role of Bingley, largely due to his ability to smile. Well, he got that role as opposed to some other role, because no one can smile the way he can.]

Overall, the production was quite well done, but there were a few issues. Primarily, it was difficult at times to hear the singing over the orchestra. Maybe, this was an issue for use because we were sitting right up front, just one row removed from said orchestra, so the music was right in our faces. Or, maybe, they just didn't have the sound system set up to overcome the orchestra; I don't know. What I do know is that I was glad, as I watched, that I have seen the movie, because there were a few places I wouldn't have know what was going on if I hadn't seen it, because I couldn't hear the vocals. The worst of that happened during the scene where Javert shows up with the revolutionaries, where I still had a moment of "huh? What's he doing there?" until I remembered what was going on.

Speaking of Javert, I'm still waiting to see a version of Les Mis where I think the Javert performance is worthwhile. If the other performances in the recent movie adaptation hadn't been so strong, Russel Crowe could have ruined it, because he was pretty horrible. The guy in this production was better but only just. Mostly, he just stood in place on stage and sang, which is where he did a better job than Crowe, because he did have a good voice and sang the numbers well, but he just stood there and sang for most of them. Unemotionally. In fact, just about his only acting was to tilt his head back and look down his nose at Jean Valjean. My wife says that Javert is the kind of role where you can get away with playing it with a stick up your butt, because Javert has a stick up his butt, and I agree, but I am still dissatisfied.

The actor playing Jean Valjean, Pedro Rodelas, had a very Hugh Jackman look to him and played the role with the same kind of heart, which made him hard not to like, even if some of the music stretched his vocal range beyond his ability. I think the same can be said of Jackman, though (actually, I think I did say that somewhere after I saw the movie), but the emotion both actors poured into the role made up for any gaps in their singing ability.

The most difficult part of this production was the actor they chose to play Marius, David Strock. The man can sing, but he was just too old for the part, and I couldn't buy into him as the student revolutionary standing next to the young woman playing Cosette. He just looked out of place, which made it difficult to buy into that whole young love-at-first-sight thing that's supposed to be going on.

However, the kid they had playing Gavroche, Ari Vozaitis, was amazing and could have completely stolen the show if he'd more "screen" time. I'm guessing he's not older than 12.

The only other issue is a practical one: The show is quite pricey. But I suppose that's the price you pay ["Claim the pun!" as Briane Pagel would say.] for local theater. Still, $30 is a lot to pay for a ticket but, if you can afford it, I would strongly recommend the show. I'll put it like this: It's long. Three hours long. But I didn't once have that feeling of wondering how much longer it was, and that's saying a lot. Also, my wife cried and, as previously stated, if my wife cries, you know it's good.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

No Respecter of (Third) Persons: Part Two -- The God Problem (an IWM post)

All right, so we were talking about third person and why it's preferable to first, especially when you use it. Again, I don't necessarily mean you you, but I do mean the general you that's out there, 95% of whom are all writing in first person. Seriously, there was a study. Okay, well, I bet there really was a study, but I'm not actually citing any study. I'm just saying... The actual study was actually with ewes, and that study found that all ewes, all ewes that write, that is, write in first person. As it turns out, ewes aren't very imaginative, and most of the stories they write, something like 99.8% of them, contain a wolf or a big bad wolf as the antagonist. The other .02% contain a bear. The most frequent line in manuscripts by ewes is "I was scared," followed closely by "I was afraid," and even more closely by "I was terrified." Some of them write in present tense, too, so it's "I am scared."

The literary history of sheep. It's a thing.

So anyway...

Why shouldn't you write in first person? You should definitely go back and read part one of this to find out the obvious reasons. The other reason is larger but more subtle. Not as noticeable in general but more pervasive. It's the thing I think that most often wrecks first person manuscripts. I call it the "God Complex."

* * *

And this is the part where you need to hop over to Indie Writers Monthly to find out the rest. If it was me, I'd want to know. I mean, having a God Complex is a serious thing, and you have to diagnose it early if you want to do anything about it. God viruses are hard to beat. Go read!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Two Quick Announcements

Announcement #1

My sons' blog continues to chug along. The second post of Aim for the Cat! is up, and you should all hop over and read it. That is, you should if you can weave your way through the non sequitur  ramblings of a middle schooler. It made me laugh. Go check it out!

Announcement #2

The first Indie Writers Monthly anthology is now out! It's all about time travel! And just to let you know, I've worked out the secret of it... but, well, there are issues that make it unusable. I mean, if you want to live through it, that is. Read all about that in my story, "The TIME Machine." Then there is the first place winner of the story contest, "I Will Be a Jerk," which is quite deserving of the honor. Plus another dozen or so other time travel stories, including one by my wife! Seriously, just go pick up your copy RIGHT NOW. Look, here's the link! There's no TIME to lose!